Randy Bretz: Reflections after seven years as licensee of TEDxLincoln

Little did I know that responding to a friend’s suggestion would put me in touch with such an incredible group of people. Little did I know that completing an online form would have such a profound impact on me personally. Little did I know that driving to California in early 2012 would send me on a life changing journey.

Lunch with a friend in early 2011 included sharing thoughts about the TED talks we’d viewed. “Have you seen the link to TEDx on the website?” he asked. “Take a look. We should do something like that in Lincoln” Those passing comments by my friend Jay Wilkinson prompted me to apply for a license for TEDxLincoln just a few days later. Not long after that, an email arrived saying I’d been granted a license.

Bretz, on the right, watching the event from the back of the room. Chris Augeri, on the left, handled social media for the 2011 event.

The very first TEDxLincoln was conducted in November 2011. It was quite an event featuring a dozen ideas, a book review and even opening comments by our mayor. To produce that first event I called on a number of friends and colleagues including people at Nebraska Educational Telecommunications, the statewide PBS and NPR network. And, working with the speakers and getting to know the audience expanded my circle of friends in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. We had the maximum allowed audience of 100 and even hosted an off-site viewing party to accommodate our more than sold-out audience. If you’re interested, here’s a playlist of that first TEDxLincoln event: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=qfJQ3nzV_tI&list=PLED0ED627F9600190

I knew that in order to grow our event, I needed to attend a TED event. So I attached my little travel trailer to my Jeep and headed to California in early 2012. On Sunday before TEDActive 2012, the TEDx staff hosted a workshop. As the day unfolded and during the TEDActive event itself, I met dozens of TEDx curators, all of whom were much younger than me. I was 67 at the time. They were from Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington, Alaska, Kansas, Iowa and elsewhere in the United States. They were from China, England, Brazil, Spain, Afghanistan, Mexico, Canada and who knows where else around the world. Some of those folks have remained friends through my TEDx experience. I’ve visited with them as I’ve traveled, I’ve attended some of their TEDx events. Some of them have visited me in Nebraska.

TEDx Licensees and Curators from around the world participated in TEDxSummit in Banf, Canada in 2016. Bretz is center of the front row making an X with his arms and holding a red X.

My life has been changed as a result. And since that first TEDActive experience, I’ve taken part in TEDActive in Whistler, TEDxSummit in Banf and TEDFest in New York. Each time, the experience has been well worth the effort and expense.

The list of TEDx events in Lincoln, Nebraska includes 25 programs. We’ve conducted seven main events, four youth events, three events for women, as well as salons and viewing parties. There have been more than 200 on our stages, sharing ideas from and about Nebraska. I estimate we’ve had around 5,000 in our live audiences and we’re approaching four million views of the videos we’ve shared on YouTube.

Producing that first event in 2011 was quite a challenge. I got a little help and advice from Brian Smith, licensee of TEDxOmaha. I spent hours on the Wiki that had been set up for TEDx curators. I invited my friends to planning meetings. But even with all that help, I felt pretty much alone with the full weight of the event on my shoulders. Around 2013, I welcomed the shared Google folders that the TEDx staff put together, and celebrated when the TEDxHub was activated after that. My experience suggested that there were others out there who felt alone. So, I became a regular visitor and contributor to the Hub. At one point in early 2016, at the request of the TEDx staff, I even hosted a webinar touting the benefits of the TEDx Hub. The TEDx staff titled it “How I Got Hooked on the Hub.” I think there are still some good points from that webinar. https://youtu.be/kioKNuXtwL0

In my introduction, I mentioned that my involvement in TEDx has been a life changing journey. Beginning right here in Lincoln, Nebraska (smack dab in the middle of the United States), TEDxLincoln has become part of my identity. I’m introduced as the man who brought TEDx to Lincoln.

Randy Bretz on the cover of “L Magazine” in September, 2013.

You can read the article here: https://journalstar.com/niche/l-magazine/profiles/randy-bretz-the-man-behind-tedx/article_7c505743-5ea3-5a3c-b486-e5376f311efe.html

Across Nebraska I’ve gotten to know some incredible people. There’s Desire Wineland out in Cambridge, Doc Butler up in Chadron, Tim Lindahl in Sidney, David Nabb in Kearney, Brent Comstock from Auburn, Strawberry Olive in Omaha . . . and the list could go on. They’ve all come to Lincoln to share their idea. Casting an even wider net across the United States pulls in Kat Haber up in Alaska, Phil Klein in Seattle, Mark Sylvester in California, Shawna Butler in Texas, Herb Reininger in Pennsylvania, Arthur Zards in Illinois, Sarge Salman and David Troy in Maryland, Everett Alexander in Alabama, Corrie Woods in North Carolina just to name a few. I can’t leave out Steve Gargulio who produced TEDxJNJ. He was at the Johnson and Johnson headquarters in New Jersey, but he now lives in Mexico. And, my net has grown outside the United States to include Ana Goelzer in Brazil, Ani Romero in Peru, Sarah and Troy Harkins, formerly in Australia and now in Bangladesh, Jimmy Tan in China, Ruta Kruliauskaite from Lithuania, Cristina Juesus from Spain, Tetsuya Kawaguchi in Japan, Hannu Jaakkola over in Finland, Richard Lucas in Poland . . . well the list goes on and I’m sure I’ve left out many. I can’t begin to explain how these people have deeply touched me.

Little did I know how a comment at lunch would impact me. Little did I know how much the people I’ve met during my TEDx journey would mean to me. Little did I know just how much TEDxLincoln would define me. But, I do know now is the time for me to pass the baton of leading TEDxLincoln on to those who have been as deeply impacted as I. Ryan Dobesh will be applying for future TEDxLincoln licenses and he’ll be greatly helped along the way by Shaun Harner.

Celebrating the end of TEDxLincoln 2013. The event took place in the studio of Nebraska Educational Telecommunications, the state-wide PBS and NPR network serving all of Nebraska. Several of the TEDxLincoln talks have been featured on NET’s television network.

As for me, while I’m stepping away from the primary license responsibility, TEDxLincoln still defines me and I’ll remain very involved as long as I can and as long as they’ll have me. This shift in responsibility will give me time to resurrect my “Behind the X” series to complement Mark Sylvester’s “Hacking The Red Circle.” https://hackingtheredcircle.com/ It’ll give me time to visit my scattered and growing family. And it’ll give me the opportunity to actually enjoy future TEDx events from the audience. I’m looking forward to this new chapter, recognizing little do I know how it will unfold, but I know it will include my TEDx family.

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